As the war between Pro-Palestine militias and Israel looks set to enter its third week, violence has erupted across various fronts, not limited to just land, air and sea. Since Hamas fired the first group of missiles into Israeli territories on 7 October, and the subsequent retaliation by Tel Aviv, the online discussions on the conflict has been shaped by massive amounts of propaganda and misinformation from all sides. On the digital front, the war has also involved cyber threat groups from different parts of the world including India.
Several hacking groups have announced their allegiance to either Israel or Palestine and attacked the digital infrastructure of their rivals. A recent analysis by cyber intelligence platform Falcon Feeds revealed that hacker groups based out of India, such as Silent One and Indian Cyber Force, actively support Israel in the cyber warfront. In fact, Indian Cyber Force announced its attack on Palestine on the second day of the conflict.
“These Indian groups have traditionally launched attacks on countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their statements on the Israel-Palestine war are political in nature and the kind of support for Israel has not been seen before. These groups were not that active in the Russia-Ukraine where we saw the involvement of hacking groups from around the world,” said Nandakishore Harikumar, CEO of cyber security firm Technisanct that operates Falcon Feeds.
Involvement Of Indian Threat Groups
In its analysis, Falcon Feeds identified 116 cyber threat groups involved in the online war, out of which 90 support the Palestinian cause. Twenty-three other groups, including the ones from India, support Israel while three remain neutral.
“The neutral groups either don’t discriminate between who they attack, or they have called for peace and do not want the conflict to go on. Notably all Indian groups support Israel and Indian websites are also facing attacks from the Pro-Palestine hacker groups,” explained Harikumar.
In the list of countries that faced cyber-attacks from the groups involved in this cyber war, India features at the third position, behind only Israel and Palestine. Hacker groups like Sylhet Gang, Garnesia Team, Panoc Team, and Ganosec have attacked India, France, USA and Ukraine as a response to their support for Israel. The Indian targets included the official site of the Delhi state government in addition to private sites.
It is important to note that the Indian state’s official stance on the war has not been in support of Israel. In a statement issued five days after the conflict started, the Ministry of External Affairs communicated that India calls for a “sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side, at peace with Israel”.
The attacks on Indian websites from Pro-Palestine groups are a reaction to the attacks launched by Indian hacker groups, according to Harikumar. In addition to attacks on various Palestinian infrastructure, Indian hacker outfits Team UCC, Garuna Ops and Indian Cyber Force have also targetted websites belonging to countries that align with the Palestine such Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
This indicates that the motivations behind the involvement of Indian cyber threat actors are convoluted and not in line with the government’s official position on the matter.
Complexity Of Cyber War Activities
Just some days ago, it was revealed that the website that coordinates medical aid for people stuck in Palestine was subjected to cyber-attacks. The evolving role of political hackers has become an important debate in the world of cybersecurity since the Russia-Ukraine war witnessed large number of cybercrime involvement last year.
Given its ability to strike at critical infrastructure, cyber warfare has become an integral weapon in itself. The Ukrainian war effort against Russia even saw the government calling for cyber defense volunteers.
The cyberattacks on Israel are almost entirely coming from outside of Palestine since the Israeli government has been cutting off internet access to millions of Palestinians, Harikumar pointed out. “The internet being a very inter-connected place brings together Pro-Palestine outfits from places ranging from Russia and Iran to countries in Africa,” he said. Infamous hacking groups such as KillNet from Russia and Anonymous Sudan have been active participants in the anti-Israel cyber-attacks so far.
Modes of attack employed by hackers involved in the cyber war include distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), malware deployment, phishing campaigns and website defacement.